07 January 2011

Nāmapada: a guide to names in the Triratna Buddhist Order

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This is my second book published under my own imprint Visible Mantra Press. I've been writing about words, and Buddhist technical terms for some time on this blog and have accumulated lots of notes about various words, as well as a number of useful reference works for tracking etymologies. I saw a need for an accessible guide to the Sanskrit and Pāli names we use in the Order. Most people don't have much Sanskrit or Pāli beyond a few technical terms, and struggle with the standard dictionaries. With my interest in words I was well placed to write such a guide.

So I got hold of a list of all the names in current use and began to work on creating a list of all the words used in constructing them, including suffixes and prefixes. For each of these I offered some of the most common definitions, and then as much etymological information as I could find, and in some cases did some original research (for instance on mitra). It turned out to be fascinating as a large proportion of the words have English cognates, but there are also a few which are not Indo-European in origin but come from the Dravidian or Munda language families. Also one or two words are influenced by the Tibetan translation (ḍākinī and mañju) for instance.

Then I wrote an introduction which covers the basic elements of how words are constructed (morphology) in Sanskrit. Hopefully this will be accessible enough for lay people to use in decoding names. Below is an example of how the book looks using the example of our founder Urgyen Sangharakshita.

(ö-rgyan ཨོ་རྒྱན). Tibetan rendering of S. udiyāna (or oḍḍiyāna and other variants). Xuán zàng (玄奘) translated the word as 'garden' suggesting he read S. udyāna 'going out; walking out; park or garden'. The legendary birthplace of Padmasambhava. Though still not positively identified many consider it to be in the Swat Valley, others in South India or Orissa. P. uddiya means 'northern, northwestern' i.e. Nepal. PED suggests a connection with S. udīcya 'territory north and west of the Sarasvatī River' which could include the Swat Valley. The name Urgyen was given to Sangharakshita by Kachu Rinpoche in 1962.

The name Sangharakshita (more correctly transliterated as saṅgharakṣita) is made up of two parts saṅgha and rakṣita.

(also spelt saṃgha which is less correct, though not entirely wrong). Derivation is uncertain but most likely √hṛ as per PED. MW √han is unlikely; but C.f. MW entry for saṃ-hṛ 'to bring together, unite, collect, etc'. PIE *gher 'grab, grip, seize' > Gk. khortos 'enclosed space'; L. hortos (cf. W. garth 'fold, enclosure'; Irish gort 'crop, field'); Gk khoros > E. choir, chorus. Gmc *gurdjan > E. girdle, yard, orchard. Interestingly there is a L. parallel from PIE *ko(m)-ghṛ (= S. sam-hṛ/saṅ-gha) > L. cohors > E. cohort, court. The suffix –gha is a verbal (kvi) suffix which retains the PIE g.[1] In S. spelling rules any nasal followed by gh > , hence correct spelling is saṅgha. However it is further possible, though avoided in Classical S., to use anusvāra – ṃ – to represent any nasal followed by a consonant allowing for saṃgha. Buddhist scribes often favoured anusvāra because it is invariably easier to write.

[1] This happens in other roots in gha, e.g. S. han 'to kill' *ghan. See Jayarava 'Philological Odd & Ends V' for a more in-depth discussion of the etymology and spelling of saṅgha.

(P. rakkhita) "guarded, protector, watched over" < rakṣ 'to protect, observe, guard'. (note 'observe' means 'watch over' ). PIE *ark > Gk. áléxo hence Alexander 'the protector'; L. arceo > E. ark, arcane 'enclosed' (and therefore 'hidden'), and exercise. The name Gurkha comes from go 'cow' + √rakṣ.
As the introduction says, there are a number of ways of adding two words together to form a compound. In Nāmapada I describe the various approaches and the applicable form is:
1. Here the relationship is 'Y of X' for example: Prajñāpriya 'the lover (priya) of Wisdom (prajñā)'; or Dharmadhara: 'the bearer or memoriser (dhara) of the teachings (dharma). Note that the first element can be plural. The relationship can also be 'Y for X'; 'Y through X'; or, particularly when the last part is a past–participle like rakṣita 'protected', 'X by Y' e.g. SAṄGHARAKṢITA 'protected by the saṅgha'.

Note that I've included some of the technical jargon (this is tatpuruṣa compound) but it is not emphasised. So we see that Saṅgharakṣita means 'protected by the spiritual community'. Finally in the introduction I have sections on pronunciation and stress - so saṅ rhymes with 'sung', not 'sang' for instance; and kṣi has a short i sound as in 'bit', not a long ee sound as in 'beet'. Stress falls on the ra (which is 'heavy' because it is followed by a conjunct consonant), so: Saṅgharakṣita.

With almost 500 entries the book covers the meanings of all names in use in the Order up to June 2010. I've tried to make it as easy as possible, so the entries are in the order of the English alphabet ignoring diacritics - all diacritics are provided, along with some guidance on how to break down names which might be tricky. For instance Dharmolka 'a firebrand for the Dharma' is make up from dharma + ulka 'firebrand'. The change of spelling is caused by sandhi meaning 'junction'. The rules for sandhi are complex, but only a few are relevant to names in use, and these are listed and explained in the introduction. In this case when a word ending in a is combined with a word beginning with u, the two vowels coalesce to o.

I'm very pleased to be able to make this offering to the Triratna Order, and I hope that it helps everyone involved with the Order to feel more comfortable and familiar with our names.
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